Hip-hop is a game of patterns and cycles. First it’s the mixtape, next it’s singles from the album, then the actual album accompanied by videos for the hit singles, and finally a tour to promote the shit out of the album. Repeat. As Evidence says in So Fresh: “spend six months out the year on my hustle and grind / the other half spent plotting the next.” More broadly, it seems like every six months there is a new ‘it’ artist that captures the spotlight, only to relinquish it when someone else overtakes them or they cannot sustain themselves (exception: Drake). First it was Soulja Boy, then Asher Roth, and now it’s Young Money’s feisty female Nicki Minaj.
No matter what anybody says about her (that her dichotomous flow is annoying, that her lyricism isn’t up to snuff), Nicki Minaj is holding down the game for female emcees right now. Pretty much the only lady in plain sight, Minaj has undertaken the tall task of repping women in a game where feminism is belittled and degraded at every turn. How can a woman who has grown up with hip hop be expected to hold the mic with confidence when the entire genre tells her she ain’t shit?
When asked last year why there were no female rappers on the Rock The Bells Tour, underground stalwart Murs explained his perspective on it, and also offered aspiring female emcees a word of advice:
Murs makes a distinction between the older generation of female rappers and the new school (or lack thereof). Here’s an abridged timeline of the trajectory of the female emcee since the beginning of hip hop:
1976-1983 – Sha Rock
Part of the Funky 4 + 1, Sha Rock may have been the first woman ever in a hip hop group, laying the groundwork for all those to follow.
1984 – Roxanne Shante – Roxanne’s Revenge
A response record to UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne,” a song about a girl denying their advances.
1986 – Salt ‘n Pepa – Hot, Cool, and Viscious
Salt ‘n Pepa’s debut album went double platinum and carved out a niche for women in the game.
1988 – MC Lyte – Lyte As A Rock
MC Lyte hit the scene has a teenager, established herself as a battler, and then made hits all throughout the ‘90s. She spawned a raw approach to the microphone while still seeming lady-like.
MC Lyte – Ruffneck
1989 – Queen Latifah – All Hail The Queen
Absolutely incomparable, Queen Latifah enjoyed major success as a female emcee, holding her own against dudes on the mic. Despite rumors that a lot of her rhymes were ghostwritten by male rappers, her presence, personality, and legacy are undeniable.
Queen Latifah – U.N.I.T.Y.
1994 – Lauryn Hill (by way of The Fugees) – Blunted On Reality
Her performances on The Score and her own solo release The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill proved why Blunted On Reality was such a big step for female emcees. Nobody had seen a spitter like her yet. She had it all: flow, complex metaphors, humor, a balance between rawness and commercial appeal.
Lauryn Hill – Final Hour
1996 – Lil’ Kim – Hard Core
The Junior Mafia spitter took sexuality to a whole new level, not only selling an image of sexiness but also slinging sexually explicit rhymes left and right.
1996 – Bahamadia – Kollage
The Philadelphia native Bahamadia is more substantive than a majority of rappers- male or female- in the game. Although she hasn’t put out an album since 2000, when she dropped Kollage nobody was ready!
Reflection Eternal ft. Bahamadia – Chaos
Bahamadia ft. K-Swift & Mecca Starr – 3 Tha Hard Way
’96 may have been the decisive year for hip-hopstresses. Foxy Brown (Ill Na Na) and Kim burst onto the scene with hypersexual lyrics that signaled a shift in the trajectory of feminine rap; sexual imagery became linked inextricably to commercial success of the female rapper. Think about it.
Missy Elliott, Da Brat, Charlie Baltimore, Trina, Remy Ma. What do they all have in common?
Da Brat on “A Little Bit More”
“I live to party all night / And love to have sex”
Lil’ Kim – Too many examples, but here’s one:
“I got the magic clit / I’m on fire, lick once, I get licked twice”
Missy Elliott on “Sock It To Me” ft. Da Brat
“Ooh ahh, sock it to me like you want to / I can take it like a pro and you’ll know”
Since then, it’s been extremely rare to see or hear about a new female rhymer. So, where did they all go?
MTV News Special on Female Rappers:
I think, more than blaming labels for not pushing female artists, the argument could be made that the overtly sexual female rappers (Kim, Missy, etc.) are responsible for sealing their gender’s fate; their incredible success meant that every subsequent female artist has been measured against them, or typecast as them even if they were more in the Lauryn Hill/Bahamadia vein.
All of this makes Nicki Minaj even more compelling; she’s having success at the height of male domination in the industry. Her success could open doors back up for other aspiring female emcees that haven’t gotten a chance for the limelight (like my favorite female emcee right now: Rhymesayer-rookie Psalm One). What’s more, Ludacris’ next album Battle of the Sexes (which was supposed to be a collab with former label-mate Shawna before she dipped for T-Pain’s label) is going to feature a host of female rhymers in Shawna’s place. These next few months have the potential to be instrumental for women in the game.
Unlike Soulja Boy (who plateaued since his six months of fame) and Asher Roth (who has fallen off considerably since his six months), hopefully Minaj will be able to replicate what Drake’s done: once you capture the spotlight, always keep a piece of it.
Recently, I asked Clutch what he thought would happen to Young Money when Wayne goes to jail, to which he responded, “Everyone but Drake is screwed.” Is this true? Can Nicki Minaj somehow stay attached to Drizzy and hold on tightly to some of the focus? We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s an alphabetical list of some of the dopest female emcees that are definitely worth checking out. Also make sure to download the Benz and a Backpack Female Emcees Mixtape featuring the hottest female emcees to ever grace the mic.
1. The Ass (feat. Apani B-Fly Emcee) – Pharoahe Monch
2. In The Woods (feat. Shortie No Mas) – De La Soul
3. One Four Love (Part I) – Common, Kool G Rap, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Posdnuos, Rah Digga, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Sporty Thievz & Talib Kweli
4. Proceed III (feat. Bahamadia) – The Roots
5. Slow Blues (feat. Vast Aire, Timbo King, Prodigal Sunn & Byata) - Wu-Tang Clan
6. Return of the B-Girl (feat. Kool Keith) – T-Love
7. You Know My Steez (Three Men & A Lady Remix) (feat. The Lady Of Rage & Kurupt) – Gang Starr
8. Black Girl Pain (feat. Jean Grae) – Talib Kweli
9. No Peace (feat. Ice-T, Ant Banks, J.Frost, Spice 1, Bo$$ & Treach) – Murder Squad
10. Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) – Digable Planets
11. Stay Gold (feat. Lauryn Hill) – Young Zee
12. Keep It On The Real (Pete Rock Remix) – Champ MC
13. Ladies First (Feat. Monie Love) – Queen Latifah
14. Rapper Girls – Psalm One
15. Final Hour – Lauryn Hill
16. My Crew – Jean Grae
17. Ruffneck – MC Lyte
18. U.N.I.T.Y. – Queen Latifah
19. Victim (feat. Njeri Earth) – GZA
20. Rumble In The Jungle (feat. A Tribe Called Quest & Busta Rhymes) – The Fugees
Quite possibly the greatest female posse cut EVER:
Lil Kim – Ladies Night (Remix) ft. Angie Martinez, Lil Kim, Left Eye, Da Brat & Missy Elliott
Something you do not see too often; a female emcee battling a dude and tearing him to shreds!
Female Emcees Worth Listening To: